When Randy Dobnak strained his right middle finger on June 19, the issue was initially thought to be minor, something he could pitch through or simply rest for a couple weeks before returning.
Setbacks derailed the righthander as the diagnosis suddenly went from minor to landing him a spot on the 60-day Injured List. But on Friday, two and a half months after the initial injury, Dobnak finally found himself back on an MLB mound.
And while Dobnak flashed dominance in spurts, at one point retiring 15 straight batters, two big innings sunk his return as the Twins lost 5-3 at Tropicana Field.
After a flawless first inning in which Dobnak retired the first three batters of the game all on ground balls, a staple of his game when pitching well, it quickly unraveled as the low pitches he thrived on began to rise into the middle of the zone.
Austin Meadows doubled to open the second inning before advancing to third on a wild pitch. Randy Arozarena then hit a weak ground ball to Miguel Sano, who opted to throw it home instead of taking the out at first to no avail as Meadows beat the tag and scored. On the very next pitch Kevin Keirmaier tripled to bring Arozarena home and a Yandy Diaz groundout followed to bring in the third run of the inning.
“After the first inning went really well, the second inning I kept leaving some pitches up in the zone a little bit which obviously enabled them to get the line drives rather than the ground balls I’m looking for,” said Dobnak, who finished with five earned runs and 88 pitches in seven innings pitched.
In the third, Dobnak struggled again, letting up three hits to begin the inning including a Nelson Cruz double that scored before Meadows singled to score Cruz and extend the lead to 5-1.
“It was a little bit of a rough start,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I think he was leaving the ball up. Obviously, Dob is a pretty classic sinker-slider-type pitcher. When you pitch down in the zone and give yourself an opportunity to get some ground balls and miss some bats with that slider, that’s when he’s at his best. I think we actually saw some of that as the game went on.”
Dobnak retired the next two batters to get out of the third inning. From there, he didn’t allow a hit the rest of the night, retiring 15 consecutive batters to keep Minnesota in the game.
However, Minnesota’s offense, which has struggled as of late, could not mount any momentum. Jorge Polanco and Ryan Jeffers each hit solo home runs and Polanco added an RBI double in the eighth inning. The Twins had the tying run at the plate in each of the last two innings but couldn’t capitalize on either opportunity.
“We made a run at it. We had some good at-bats. We just needed another big hit or two to get back where we needed to be,” said Baldelli, later adding “I think it’s hard to argue that we have been in a little bit of a rut … I felt like we were clicking pretty well for a while. We’ve got to find that again.”
Rays starter Michael Wacha pitched six innings allowing two runs on just three hits while striking out seven. At one point, Wacha had retired 11 straight batters before Jeffers’ home run broke the streak. It was a rebound start for Wacha, who pitched against the Twins three weeks ago and allowed seven runs on 11 hits.
“Wacha threw the ball a lot better today. I feel like he worked ahead a little bit better. He threw that fastball at the top of the zone a little bit better. He did a lot of things better,” Baldelli said.